The Ex-suicide
135 pages

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135 pages

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A high-society Southern satire about an heir's battle with his domineering mother, society's expectations, and his own mental health

The Ex-Suicide, Katherine Clark's fourth Mountain Brook novel, is a satirical comedy of manners about a prominent Alabama family living across the street from the Birmingham Country Club. The house happens to be where the writer Walker Percy lived as a child with his family until his father committed suicide in the attic with a shotgun. The only son of the current residents, Hamilton "Ham" Whitmire has several Ivy League degrees as well as a generous trust fund but is striving mainly to be an "ex-suicide," as defined by Percy's writings. As a result of Ham's intellectual aspirations and philosophical principles, and thanks to his trust fund, he has succeeded only in figuring out what he does not want to do with his life. Unfortunately this comprises just about all known occupations, but especially any involving the family business, which his imperious, society-matron mother insists he take over from his aging father.

When the novel opens, the thirty-seven-year-old son has recently returned to his hometown and taken a teaching position at a historically black college in the "other" Birmingham—not the one where he grew up. As an anxiety-ridden, panic-attack-prone depressive in a perpetual state of existential crisis, Ham must plan carefully how to get through each day without putting his life in the hands of the mental-health-care professionals. But, according to his mother, he must also take over the reins of the family business, get married, and carry on the family name.

Ham isn't in Birmingham long before he learns his college is also in an existential crisis and fighting to keep its doors open. Even worse, circumstances force him to take at least an interest in the family business. While seeking refuge and stability in the waiting room of his therapist's office, he finds himself in the emotional thrall of a beautiful old flame who is in the midst of a devastating divorce. She is anxious to have Ham back in her life, at least as an escort, but probably more.

Will Ham buckle under all the pressures—as Percy's father famously did in the attic of what is now his parents' home? Or will he be able to pull himself together and live up to society's (and his mother's) expectations? Fortunately Ham is one of Norman Laney's former pupils, and Laney never gives up on a student. In the midst of Ham's crisis, Laney steps into the breach in hopes that Ham chooses life as an ex-suicide.



Publié par
Date de parution 18 juillet 2017
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611177770
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1400€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


The Ex-suicide
Pat Conroy, Founding Editor at Large
The Ex-suicide

The University of South Carolina Press
2017 Katherine Clark
Published by the University of South Carolina Press Columbia, South Carolina 29208
26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data can be found at
ISBN 978-1-61117-776-3 (cloth)
ISBN 978-1-61117-777-0 (ebook)
Front cover illustration by Ellen Fishburne
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
They all think any minute I m going to commit suicide. What a joke. The truth of course is the exact opposite: suicide is the only thing that keeps me alive. Whenever everything else fails, all I have to do is consider suicide and in two seconds I m as cheerful as a nitwit. But if I could not commit suicide-ah then, I would. I can do without Nembutal or murder mysteries but not without suicide.
Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

You can elect suicide, but you decide not to. What happens? All at once, you are dispensed. Why not live, instead of dying? You are like a prisoner released from the cell of his life. You notice that the cell door is ajar and that the sun is shining outside. Why not take a walk down the street? Where you might have been dead, you are alive. The sun is shining . The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn t have to.
Walker Percy, Thought Experiment: A New Cure for Depression, Lost in the Cosmos

I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, Hoping to cease not till death.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Birmingham, Alabama 1997
On the drive in to work this morning, he realized he had reached that point when he was going to have to face it; he couldn t continue to postpone the moment of confrontation. The relief he had initially enjoyed from delaying the inevitable had turned into dread of the consequences of delaying the inevitable. So it was time to stop procrastinating and address the situation. This morning his imagination had unexpectedly run riot, and conjured up a horde of nightmare images of what lay in store for him. So he had nothing more to gain from avoiding the actual reality of what lay in store for him. There was always the hope that it wouldn t be as bad as he feared.
But it always was as bad, or even worse. His first quick glance into the main office confirmed this fundamental truth. The narrow slot above his name was positively crammed with papers and ominous yellow manila envelopes.
Realizing that the secretary was watching him, he thought he should risk a small sally.
Well, he said, as cheerfully as he could, I can tell that the paper shortage must be over.
This was in reference to the administration s recent announcement that this year s budget had no room for big ticket items like paper.
The secretary smiled broadly through two chipped and gapped front teeth. She was a copper colored young woman with hair dyed to match the exotic shade of her skin. You re wrong, Dr. Whit, she said, obviously prepared to return his pleasantries. There s still no paper for the faculty. But the administration seems to have all it needs. She glanced in the direction of the mail slots, and then met his eyes, her grin wider than ever.
It s not a fair fight, he said in as lighthearted a manner as he could muster, while apprehension was overtaking his system like some form of paralysis. They ve got all the weaponry on their side.
So don t nobody forget, she grinned again. They the masters; y all the slaves.
Fortunately her telephone rang at just that moment, so he hastened over to the row of mail slots and began tugging at the pile of papers jammed into his. He hoped the secretary was too absorbed in her phone call, which appeared to be personal in nature, to notice just how hard he had to struggle to dislodge the contents out of his box. As soon as he succeeded, the onslaught began.
Colleagues, said the first item, a memo from his department chairman. Or chairperson, actually. Please remember to leave your door at least two (2) to three (3) feet ajar during all of your eight (8) office hours per week. Many students, especially freshpersons, are too intimidated to knock on a closed office door, or even a door left only slightly open. We as faculty must be as welcoming and accessible to our students as we know how to be. After all, they are literally paying for our time. They are our customers, and we are the service providers.
Waves of adrenaline began surging through his body. (He now understood that this unpleasant sensation was what the specialist had meant by stress, which apparently was partly the cause of his irritable bowel syndrome.) Although he had technically agreed to reduce stress in his life, he knew of no means short of his own death through which he could accomplish this worthy goal. He could no more control the surges of adrenaline shooting through his insides than he could control the slings and arrows shooting toward him from the outside. And it was of course this external fusillade which wreaked the internal havoc. Service provider was quite possibly the worst thing he d ever been called in his life. It was downright obscene.
But even worse, he knew immediately that this memo, ostensibly addressed to everyone in the department, was in actuality aimed specifically at him. Of that he had no doubt. During those times in the week when he was actually in his office during his posted office hours, he kept his door just barely open, so as to advertise his presence to the chairman in case she should be checking, but discourage any eager or intrepid students who might be seeking him out. He also needed that barrier against the odor of nail polish and the pungent smell of microwaved buttered popcorn, which could saturate his clothes so thoroughly he d smell like a movie theater for the rest of the day. All the other faculty members kept their office doors righteously ajar, and they could be easily viewed in a state of equally righteous productivity, busily grading papers or conferring with students or painting their fingernails. Fluorescent light and gospel music poured forth from these faculty offices. Whereas, if anyone had peered into his, they would have found the office in total darkness, except for the light through the tiny window, where he sat huddled in his chair reading the latest Maigret mystery he had checked out from the library. Simenon had written almost a hundred of these mysteries, but unfortunately they would not be enough to get him through the whole school year.
He supposed he should have known it was only a matter of time before he was busted. The only reason he hadn t been caught before for keeping fewer than the eight (8) office hours he was required to keep was because the chairman didn t keep eight (8) herself. Plus, he had taken the added precaution of scheduling some of his office hours during her class periods. That way she had no way of knowing whether he was in his office or not.
He leafed rapidly through the other material in his hands with more confidence. The worst blow had been struck, he felt, and nothing could be as bad as the chairman s memo. Indeed, the ominous manila envelopes contained only the most innocuous print-outs of the minutes from the last (mandatory) department meeting; the minutes from the last (mandatory) general faculty meeting; and the complete text of the guest speaker s motivational speech at the (mandatory) assembly, all of which he had failed to attend. There was no letter-as he always feared-that his contract would not be renewed for the following year; no summons-as there had been last month-to come talk to the dean about why he had missed the last three (mandatory) departmental meetings.
He said good-bye to the secretary, Ms. Wilson, and flinched as she said in return, Have a good day, Dr. Whit. It wasn t the persistent formality that bothered him so much as the persistent sensation of being a fraud whenever addressed by his academic title. Having obtained a Ph.D. almost by default, as it were, he did not believe he deserved to be called by the same lofty title as those who removed brain tumors and performed triple bypass surgeries. He wasn t sure, but he strongly believed that even if he were a true scholar, even if he were a real expert in some subject or field, he still wouldn t think he had earned the right to be called a doctor. Considering that he had embarked on his graduate studies only because he needed something to do when he dropped out of law school, he had a hard time thinking of himself as a professor rather than a law school dropout. There you go again, he could hear his therapist Lauren admonishing him. Defining yourself by your failures rather than your successes. But failure is so much more defining than success, he wanted to argue. However, he did not have time to carry on this

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